Former Payson High School pitcher and infielder Jake Sleeper has been chosen to play in the inaugural East vs. West Coca-Cola Classic Academic All-Star baseball game.
Sleeper, who graduated from PHS last week with the class of 2011, will be a member of the East team whose four coaches include Show Low’s David Nikolaus.
The Cougar mentor knows Sleeper well, having coached against him on the varsity level for the past three seasons.
The all-star game will be played at 4 p.m., Monday, June 6 at the Surprise Baseball Complex which is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
Sponsors say they jump-started the unique star game “to recognize and honor student athletes for their achievements on an off the field.”
For Sleeper, making the first-ever academic team is a huge honor, mostly because he had to compete for a position against players from all schools size classifications 1A through 5A.
Also, most of the nominees for the game were among their schools’ finest scholars.
“They had a ton of guys with 4.00 gpa’s (grade point averages),” said PHS coach Scott Novack.
To be nominated, players had to be graduating seniors with a GPA of at least 3.50.
Novack said among the reasons he nominated Sleeper was because he sported a grade average in excess of 4.00 received for taking advanced placement classes.
Sleeper, Show Low shortstop Spencer Mallet and Round Valley outfielder Michael Fritz were the only 3A East region players to be chosen for the game.
The all-star players eventually chosen from a long list of nominees came from a range of school sizes. Tiny parochial school Valley Christian, and even smaller Tonopah were represented, as were 5A “big schools” such as Gilbert, Sunrise Mountain and Millennium.
In addition to Sleeper being chosen to the academic celestial clash, he was selected at the end of the regular season to play in the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association 3A North vs. South All-Star baseball game.
It was played May 28 in Surprise.
Sleeper also shared the Longhorns’ Most Valuable Offensive Player award with teammate Westin Gibson.
In All-East region voting by coaches, Sleeper was named to the first team.
At the conclusion of the season, Novack lauded his star saying, “He improved tremendously and was a big gamer despite being hampered by a leg injury most of the year.”
Novack also said he’d been told by Joe Merklin, the head coach of 2011 state champion Blue Ridge, that Sleeper was the Longhorns’ toughest out.
For PHS, Sleeper compiled over a .500 batting average and “had some huge hits and huge games,” said Novack.
Sleeper served as the ace on the Horn pitching staff most of the season, leading the team in innings pitched. When he wasn’t on the hill, he played second base where, “he was pretty darn steady,” Novack said.
One of the finest games turned in by Sleeper, both as a pitcher and a hitter, occurred in mid-April during a 16-0 win over the Snowflake Lobos.
The senior right-hander received the starting nod from Novack and responded with a pitching gem.
In going the distance, six innings, he allowed only two hits, walked just one and struck out six Lobo batsmen.
At the plate he was 4-for-5 with two doubles and four RBIs.
It was those types of efforts that earned Sleeper the post-season laurels that continue to roll in.